Nov. 7, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The University of Notre Dame men's golf team welcomed a number of new faces to its starting lineup during the recently completed 2013 fall season. From its freshmen trio of Blake Barens, Liam Cox and Matt Rushton, to junior Patrick Grahek earning his first career start to close the fall at the Invitational at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, new players made bids throughout the autumn campaign to work themselves into the team's regular rotation.
Irish head coach Jim Kubinski said that along with the youth of the team's lineup, and with some of the tournament results not being up to the standards the program strives for, the first half of the season has set the team up for significant growth in the spring semester.
"The fall really was a stepping stone semester for us," Kubinski said. "Where we're ranked, in the 90s out of 300-plus Division I teams, the top 70 or so make the NCAA Championship. With a good spring, we feel we can get to NCAAs and accomplish some of the goals that we set every year as a team, to compete for a championship."
Being in an advantageous position with the opening leg of the season gone, however, does not mean Notre Dame is content entering a nearly four-month tournament layoff period.
"I don't feel like we played anywhere near the way we can," Kubinski said. "It would be one thing if we had five seniors in the lineup, played the very best that we can and are ranked somewhere in the 90s. But we played four underclassmen (including sophomore Cory Sciupider) in our starting five, watching them grow through the roller coaster ride that most players have.
"In most cases, freshmen and younger players in general need time to grow, it's such a big change being away from junior golf where you're worried about what you're doing, your own schedule," he said. "We know how much better we can get, you just look at the numbers and you don't have the feel for a team, we know we can be better."
What seemed to be the most frustrating aspect of the fall was how the quality of the team's practice rounds did not consistently translate into tournament competition. Kubinski said that of the roughly 11 qualifying rounds played at home, players that qualified for tournament play posted great scores in nine or 10 of those rounds. With only a handful of under-par rounds turned in on official cards during the season, he felt that is a distinct point the team can draw on for improvement moving forward.
"When we do, we know that we can be one of those NCAA teams that have a chance to beat people," Kubinski said. "If the team was made up of all juniors and seniors, I would be a little disappointed. Given the fact that we played three freshmen, a sophomore and three juniors who really don't have even a year of experience, I thought they did a great job in many ways and did some good things. It's just a matter of drawing from those experiences and trying to get more consistent play."
Kubinski feels that developing mental confidence, as much as molding swing confidence, is the goal that all golf coaches strive to instill in their athletes. The best way to become prepared for tournament situations, he said, is to be a part of the tournament environment itself. That is the next step for the young Notre Dame squad, becoming battle-tested under fire.
"That's what we have to learn, and the guys will, we just don't know what the timetable will be," Kubinski said. "Is it three months, six months, one year, two years? We had a great group that we called the `Big Three' (Max Scodro, Tom Usher and Chris Walker), who graduated in 2012 made a few runs at the NCAA Tournament and won some BIG EAST Championships, did a great job.
"As freshmen and sophomores, they made their share of mistakes while learning," he said. "It took a couple of years, so we are going to try to expedite that process and keep working with our guys. As soon as they realize how important that side of the game is, that's when they will have that Aha moment, and they will have that breakthrough."
Grinding to get beyond rough stretches of play, all while keeping the faith in one's swing and overall game, is not an unfamiliar occurrence for any golfer. Having the foresight to persevere through difficult times as students of the game to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is what Kubinski and assistant coach Scott Gump feel is the key to this season's Irish fulfilling their ultimate potential.
"The biggest key is when they buy into it, because the information they get from their coaches, me having been here a number of years and Coach Gump playing the PGA Tour for a long time, it's good information," Kubinski said. "I know I was this way and so is probably every athlete going back over time, guys who are 19, 20 years old feel like they have all the answers. Once these guys realize that the information available to them is good, they can benefit from it, but until then it's a lot of work."
With wintry conditions right around the corner, Kubinski said there are numerous ways that the Irish can keep building momentum during the downtime of actually being on the course. Contrary to the split fall-spring schedule, there truly is no offseason in college golf.
"This next month is so exciting for me because you can really coach, you are not worried about traveling to another event in a week, having to make changes to a swing with a competition in a few days," Kubinski said. "You can really sit back and coach. When the Christmas break comes, we are very lucky to have a roster where 10 of our 12 guys are from warm weather areas, and go home for four weeks and can work on things. They can play some golf, and typically guys find a tournament or two to play in over the break, so they are fresh when we come back in January we have several weeks to make improvements and practice here before we start to hit the road again.
"To me this is really a precious time of year, and I can't underscore how much we don't approach it as an offseason even though it technically is," he said. "With the guys having the right focus and desire that I know they have, they are going to make big improvements over the next three months."
-- Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant